The Adarsh cooperative housing society “flouted all environmental and coastal zone regulations” and “several ministers and bureaucrats” of the then Congress government joined hands to ensure such illegalities were accommodated to make way for the construction of the unauthorised residential building, the Bombay high court has said, in its 233-page judgement that was made public on Monday.
The housing society is staring at an uncertain fate after a division bench of the court on April 29 ordered its demolition. The bench said the building must be demolished in its entirety. The bench said while those in power blatantly “abused their positions of authority to enter into a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement” with developers of the society, the court “could not stay a mute spectator and allow such illegalities”.
A division bench of justice Rajesh Ketkar and justice Ranjit More also justified the environment ministry’s 2011 demolition order and its own, over other alternative possibilities such as demolishing only floors that were in violation of FSI regulations or ensuring the building was taken over by the government strictly for a public purpose, saying any such order would mean the court was justifying or accepting illegalities.
Allowing the government to take the structure over would also mean while it was “penalising private parties, the government was being rewarded,” the bench said.
“We are more than satisfied that petitioners have virtually hijacked the subject plot by treating the same as if it is their private property. The bureaucrats, the ministers and the concerned politicians misused/abused their power and position…Adarsh Housing Society did not apply for any mandatory environmental and coastal zone permissions. Instead, the concerned authorities changed the development plan to accommodate the building,” the judgement reads.
“Thus, allowing for either demolishing only a part of the building, or asking the state to take over the structure, will be tantamount to regularising or condoning an egregious violation of the developmental notifications,” the bench said.
The bench relied mainly on submissions of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and on the findings of the 2011 judicial commission set up by the Maharashtra government to look into the Adarsh scam, while arriving at the verdict.
The bench observed housing society enjoyed the patronage of several politicians, including then chief minister Ashok Chavan, Congress leaders Vilas Rao Deshmukh, Sushil Shinde and Sunil Tatkare, and Shiv Sena MLC Kanhaiyalal Gidwani.
These politicians, and several senior bureaucrats such as UDD’s PV Deshmukh, Ramanand Tiwari, BMC’s Jayraj Pathak, not only applied and secured membership and flats in the society for themselves and their kin, but also conspired to tweak the city’s development plan and statutory regulations regarding construction in coastal zones. These officials and ministers “blatantly exceeded their powers” to ensure the construction, the bench said.
While initially, the building was meant to come up on a smaller plot and was to be reserved only for defence personnel, such patronage emboldened the society to apply for an another plot that belonged to the defence authorities.
“ACHS (Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society ) reserved 40% of the flats for civilians. The names of ministers and bureaucrats as members of Adarsh Society cannot be a sheer coincidence. It is clearly related to the clearance to the construction of the society and these events cannot be looked into in isolation and prima facie, the possibility of a quid pro quo arrangement cannot be ruled out.
“Bureaucrats and ministers are custodians of government property. However, prima facie, they have dishonestly disposed of the property in violation of the settled position of law. In our opinion, they are guilty of various offences in acquiring the subject plot…We hereby direct the state government to consider initiating appropriate proceedings against the concerned bureaucrats, ministers and politicians in accordance with law, if not already done,” the bench said.